Prosecards from the Edge (of a Continent)

A running commentary on my life in Izmir, Turkey...and other thoughts.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Arrrgh...

This blog is supposed the place where I talk about life in Turkey, but I hope you'll forgive me if occasionally it becomes the forum in which to rant and rave about my private grievances and beat my head against a virtual wall. My circle of friends here is exactly nil, so this blog is all I've got...sob...sob...

Wednesday dawns bright and beautiful. I leap out of bed full of grandiose plans and absolutely brimming with positive energy, and manage to keep up the momentum all day. A run on the waterfront, shopping in the Pazar (making my usual unsuccessful attempts to chat with the vendors), coloring my hair chocolate brown in a fit of boredom, laundry, house-cleaning, catching up on emails, studying Turkish, polishing off a chapter in my book about the Ottomans, giving myself a manicure, experimenting in the kitchen, planning a lesson for work later that day. Everything is going swimmingly, and when it comes time for me to be picked up to go to work (I teach English at a power company twice a week), I bounce down the stairs like Tigger, feeling ridiculously good, reflecting on how nice it would be if I could manage to feel that good going to work more than, say, once a year.

The group I teach consists of four guys. Two of them (Ali and Serkan) are youngish, early thirties, and friendly and easy-going. They speak at an intermediate level, but with a lot of hesitation. Then there's Murat, who is in his forties, and is very shy and has the lowest level of English. Finally, there's Yusuf. What to say about Yusuf? Jokester. Megalomaniac. Thorn in my side. Fountain of wisdom. Insulting, condescending bastard. Charmer. I could write a book about him. Suffice it to say that he's the boss, he's very petit, and I think he may have a bit of a Napoleon complex going on. This man destroys my lessons. He talks incessantly. I cannot for the life of me manage to politely interrupt him. He uses most of our precious lesson time to "educate" me about subjects which I either (a) already know about, or (b) have no interest in. He has the gall to keep me from doing what I need to be doing, and then to take it upon himself to "teach" the rest of the class new words, grammar, etc. When I correct his mistakes, he denies that my corrections are legitimate. When some garbled sound emerges from between his lips and, after questioning him about its spelling and pronunciation, I inform him that it's not a real word, he insists that it is. This man HAS to be the boss, he HAS to know better, and he HAS to command center stage. Meanwhile, as he's monologuing away, the rest of us are slowly sinking deeper into our chairs and our eyes are rolling back into our heads.

On this fine Wednesday afternoon I stroll blithely into the classroom, smiling and greeting everyone, about to get started on a lovely lesson, when Yusuf says grimly to me "we need to talk," and there is an audible POP that is the sound of my bubble bursting. He proceeds -- there, in front of the other students -- to tell me about how they have completed 'performance reviews' of themselves and of me. They have concluded, he said, that they're not learning anything. He says (this is a more or less direct quote) "We gave ourselves a negative performance review in regards to our progress in English. But we don't want to take all the responsibility on ourselves, since our success, of course, depends on the success of the teacher." Long, pregnant pause. Meaningful look flung in my direction. Me looking back with stunned bug-eyed look. Yusuf's monlogue continues for the next hour. It is full of lovely and humiliating little jabs like "good teachers have a plan." (You're saying I don't?) "In X number of lessons we've learned nothing...whereas when I was in school I learned English in nine months." (Define 'learned.' And if the others aren't learning, it's because you won't shut up and let me teach.) "We don't care about the topics you want us to talk about." (Everyone was interested but him, but as soon as the others got talking, he yawned loudly, stared at the ceiling, played with his pen, and finally left the room.) "We need textbooks." (Never mentioned it.) "Textbooks are useless." (Huh?) "We give you minus points on your evaluation because you give us handouts instead of books and we can't remember where we filed our handouts." (This is my fault....how?) There ensue a serious of terrifically humiliating 'demonstrations' on the part of Yusuf, whereby he attempts to show me how to teach. He points out to me that the internet is a valuable resource. (Gee, really?) The stunned bug-eyed look on my face is slowly transforming into a cold, tight-lipped stare. My eyes narrow. There is a brief lip-quiver as I for a nano-second really start believing that I'm as miserable as he says...but it is soon replaced by anger as I realize how preposterous he is. The others in the room don't dare speak up -- he is their boss, they are cowed by him, and anyway, their English is insufficient to really participate in this discussion. Every now and then, out of the corner of my eye, I catch Ali looking terribly embarrassed and attempting to disappear under the table, and glimpse Serkan trying to hide his silent hysterical laughter behind his hand as Yusuf continues with his 'demonstrations.' After a good hour's rambling, punctuated with pointless asides such as how he discovered that aspirin was killing him, and the fable about Nasrettin Hoja and the yogurt, and how easy it is to tell the difference between British and American English, Napoleon finally shuts up, magnanimously offering me the floor. Or so he says. At this point I am burning with rage. I know that I have planned every lesson well, and have sound reasons for doing what I'm doing. If I have failed, it has been in being too polite, unwilling to tell the director of the company to shut the hell up. Unwilling to embarrass him in front of his colleagues. (Exactly what he's doing to me, incidentally.)

Barely keeping my anger in check, I respond to each of his points. He interrupts me, inevitably, every five words or so. I make small concessions, I defend what I have already done, and I try, in a reasonably tactful way, to point out that he is a large part of the problem. Blinded by his own ego as he is, I don't think he quite gets it. I'm hoping that I've struck an appropriate balance between keeping the customer happy and total spinelessness. After verbally beating me to a pulp, Yusuf gives me a big grin and says "Kate, we don't want you to take this personally, but you are American...you know, it's all about customer service." Big grin again. Do not bash his teeth in. Do not bash his teeth in.

Ali drives me home. In the car there is silence for a while as we crawl forward in a sea of brakelights. Finally, haltingly, he speaks up. "Kate, I hope that what Yusuf said...I hope...you know, he can be..." At this point either English or diplomacy gets the better of him, and he leaves the sentence dangling. My quiet and not particularly genuine response: "It's ok...it's good to know what he thinks." "Don't worry," says Ali. There is no more conversation on the ride home, and I stare out the window at the desolate marshlands barely visible in the darkness, wondering how do you know how much criticism to accept, and how much to brush off? How can you really know? When are you being too hard on yourself, and when not hard enough? I've spent most of my life with people telling me I'm too self-critical, but if the voice inside keeps saying I'm not hard enough...who's right? How to separate legitimate criticism from petty personal agendas that have nothing to do with me... I go to bed, lost in thought, the buoyancy of the morning long gone.

6 Comments:

At 3:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

F..k him. He's a tosser. You should let him know.

 
At 3:13 PM, Anonymous Kate said...

I agree...but still, OUCH. :-(

 
At 3:14 PM, Anonymous Kate said...

...but I am cooking up a tasty little dish of revenge, fear not...

 
At 4:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 11:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 8:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trust me, if he went off on you like that, it means that you're really good at what you do and he can't deal with that..he's jealous that you have the upper hand in English and he can't show off to his so-called subordinates. Take it as a compliment and don't even waste your time being self-critical with regard to this situation...it's not worth AT ALL. I've had a few experiences of this sort...if you let them get to you, they'll have accomplished what they set out to do. He's insecure and you're wonderful (I don't know you but I'm sure you are!)..

 

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